The continued availability of methyl bromide as a crop protection tool is essential for farmers who produce a number of important food crops, the American Farm Bureau Federation told Congress earlier this week.

Under the Montreal Protocol agreement to which the United States is a party, “non-critical” use of the product will be phased out, starting in January 2005.

“Methyl bromide is an indispensable pest control tool used in crop production, grain storage, food processing and general pest management,” Farm Bureau member Paul Wenger told a House subcommittee. The California walnut and almond producer said that adequate availability of methyl bromide is essential and justified for U.S. users of the product.

For example, growers in California and Florida produce most of the U.S. strawberry crop and stand to lose $131 million if the methyl bromide phase-out goes forward as planned, Wegner said. “Methyl bromide as a pre-plant treatment is essential to the production of strawberries, tomatoes, grapes, almonds, walnuts, peppers, eggplant and cut flowers.”

In addition, Wenger said methyl bromide is an important post-harvest treatment used to meet sanitary standards set by the Food and Drug Administration and importing countries for grains, dry beans, raisins, prunes, figs, dates, almonds and walnuts. These products are typically treated before and during storage, and prior to being packed or shipped. Storage structures, containers and processing facilities are also fumigated to ensure food safety.

“For those without feasible alternatives, methyl bromide continues to be the only consistently effective and economical treatment that can be applied within a flexible time frame,” Wenger said.

Wenger told the subcommittee that U.S. agriculture has devoted tremendous time, money and effort into finding technically and economically feasible alternatives to methyl bromide, with public and private research efforts estimated at more than $120 million. “Unfortunately, no feasible alternatives exist - or, for that matter, are expected soon — for most agricultural users currently requesting critical use exemptions,” Wenger said.

“In the end, American consumers will suffer greatly from agriculture’s loss of methyl bromide,” Wenger said. He asked the subcommittee to act now to insure that U.S. farmers have access to the amount of methyl bromide that they need to provide consumers with high-quality, affordable products.

Farm Bureau urged support of H.R. 3403, which would “provide fairness and certainty to domestic users depending on critical uses of methyl bromide,” Wenger said.